Western Ghost Story

There’s no way of telling for certain, but if I am lucky to live a long life, at the end of my days when I look back, I think I will feel amazed at the number of true artists I have called friends throughout my life. Amazed and grateful.

I myself am not artistic, not really, not realistically. I take pictures purely as a hobby; sometimes I think that one or the other approaches what could be considered art. But I don’t pursue photography with the passion and dedication of a true artist, like my friend Shelley. Mostly because I don’t want to — because then it would no longer be spontaneous and fun.

I can’t draw or paint or make music. I am afraid to sing in front of other people.

I know what some of you are thinking, and I really appreciate it, but writing — at least the way I do it — is a craft, not an art. A lot of the writing I do is criticism (as in critiquing, not criticizing) of other people’s art. Does that make me a parasite? Many artists would say yes. I am totally okay with this. The joy and exhilaration I get from great art, and from writing about it, is enough for me.

That doesn’t explain how I got so lucky to have this constant privilege of being surrounded by people who have both talent and tenacity.

This is my friend Laura Gibson. The song is unlike anything else, and the video is like The Others transplanted to Depression-era West.

I first met her in 2006. She slept on the floor of the repulsive hovel we lived in on 19th Street in Brooklyn. She had only just begun to perform her music live.

That was only a little more than five years ago, but in terms of Laura-as-artist, it was a lifetime ago.

Her latest album, La Grande, also the name of the song in the video, is by far her best. To me, it seems conceived as a whole, rather than a collection of songs — like a novel rather than a book of short stories. It’s old-fashioned — which is why it’s called folk music — but it also sounds timeless and like nothing I’ve heard before.

Laura and I are from opposite sides of Oregon, but for this record, she took the eastern side, my side, as her inspiration.

La Grande (luh-GRAND) is a town in northeastern Oregon. When I was in first grade, my dad had to live there during the week. It was when Oregon’s logging industry had begun to tank, and as a self-employed log-truck driver, he had to go where there was work. I missed him so much. I didn’t trust my mom to hold down the fort without him; I felt worried all the time.

Laura’s album evokes the loneliness that I’ve always associated with La Grande, as well as its sense of mystery — a beautiful, small, isolated place that I’ve never been to. I have no idea about what it’s actually like there.

Now that we have ditched the moldy Jetta, maybe I’ll go there this summer, find out for myself. Even then, this timeless album will always be its soundtrack in my mind.

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One Response to Western Ghost Story

  1. Shelley says:

    Please do visit La Grande … and take me with you. Also, you most certainly ARE artistic!

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